Napo Wildlife Center Review: Yasuni National Park in Ecuador

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We’ve been lucky enough to visit the Amazon once before, from Peru and we simply could not leave Ecuador without taking the time to venture into the Yasuni National Park for a stay at the Napo Wildlife Center.

Few things in life are as grand as the opportunity to venture into one of the most notorious regions on the planet, the Amazon Rainforest and the Yasuni National Park is literally the most biologically diverse place on the planet.

Read more How to Visit the Amazon in Ecuador

The Amazon Rainforest is one of the most vastly wild places on the planet featuring more than 3 million square miles of thick forests and flood plains. It’s a place that has been the subject of the most dedicated explorers since the first ships crossed the ocean to the shores of South America.

I guess we are no exception to this, the Amazon Rainforest fascinates us and our recent visit proved to us that as long as we are able, we will continue to seize opportunities to explore its vastness.

We can say with a passion that the Amazon is not a one and done kind of place. Our experience in Peru, compared to our visit in Ecuador, was completely different. We experienced a wide variety of different wildlife and eco-systems.

We learned about different types of native culture and saw the amazing Amazon Rainforest from a whole new perspective.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands (Travel Guide)


Napo Wildlife Center Review: Is it Worth it?


Why is the Yasuni National Park so special?

Parque Nacional Yasuni Rainforest

The Parque Nacional Yasuni, also known as the Yasuni Bioreserve, is a 9,823 square kilometer National Park located in Ecuador. As part of the Amazon Rainforest, Yasuni sits between the Napo and Curaray Rivers within the Napo forest ecoregion.

Named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989, the Parque Nacional Yasuni is the most biodiverse place on the planet. Being at the center of a small zone, where mammal, bird, amphibian and vascular plant diversity all reach their maximum levels within the western hemisphere, helps define the park’s status.

Yasuni literally breaks world records for tree, amphibian and bat species richness and is one of the best spots in the world for birds and mammals on a local scale too.

Putting it lightly, Parque Nacional Yasuni features 150 amphibian species, 121 reptile species, 382 fish species, 596 bird species, 117 bat species, 100,000 insect species, and 4,000 vascular plants.

Check out this book: Oil in the Soil: The Politics of Paying to Preserve the Amazon

Sunrise over Parque Nacional Yasuni - Napo Wildlife Center

If you like nature, science, animals or any combination of them then you’ll be in heaven visiting a place like Yasuni. Additionally, the park is home to two uncontacted indigenous Amazon tribes, the Tagaeri and the Taromenane.

While you won’t have the chance to see these tribes, knowing that people exist in this reserve that has gone uncontacted by the outside world gives you some insight into the remoteness of the area.

Having spent some time in the Parque Nacional Yasuni, I can testify without hesitation to the richness of animal and plant diversity that you will encounter during a visit.

Know what you are looking at, Don’t forget your bird watching guide: Birds of Ecuador and Galapagos (Pocket Photo Guides)

Napo Wildlife Center Accommodation

Napo Wildlife Center located in the Parque Nacional Yasuni

While you can fly into Coca, travel up the Napo River and stay at a lodge in the Amazon Rainforest, the only way you can experience the deepest parts of the Yasuni National Park is by staying at the Napo Wildlife Center.

Built, owned and operated by the native indigenous Kichwa Añangu Community, an adventure to the Napo Wildlife Center is pure magic.

Winning numerous awards for eco-tourism and luxury, the Napo Wildlife Center features 16 private cabins – 12 standard and 4 luxury suites.

Each room is furnished with native decorations, a private bathroom with hot water, ventilation, energy and private balconies overlooking the jungle and the Añangu Lake.

Book your stay at the Napo Wildlife Center Ecolodge 

Napo Wildlife Center Rooms in Ecuador

Not one detail was spared in the construction of this oasis in the Amazon Rainforest and it shows. Compared to the last time we visited the Amazon, we not only felt like royalty but were treated like it too.

Our favorite part about the property was the way it flowed with the forest around it. The minimal amount of impact on the natural surroundings makes the Napo Wildlife Center merely an extension of the rainforest around you.

Every single day we’d spend our spare moments in the lodge watching a wide array of wildlife going about their business in the surrounding trees.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands (Travel Guide)

Knowledgeable Kichwa Naturalist Guides

Kichwa Naturalist Guide at Napo Wildlife Center in the Parque Nacional Yasuni

One of the things I really loved about experiencing the Napo Wildlife Center was the involvement of the community.

Not only is the lodge owned and operated by the Kichwa Añangu Community, but it also fills its employment opportunities within the tribe.

This means your guides are not just people who have studied the Amazon Rainforest in a book, they are people who have grown up in the jungle. They can read the forest and wildlife in ways we can’t even fathom.

They are alert, passionate and dedicated to the place that they call home.

Our guide, David, referred to himself as a ‘jungle boy’ and his ability to spot wildlife was impressive. We’d be cruising along in our paddle canoe, looking around and to us, it would appear as if nothing was there.

Out of nowhere, he would stop paddling to show us something he had spotted.

Know what you are looking at, Don’t forget your bird watching guide: The Birds of Ecuador: Field Guide

Bats
Never would have spotted these bats on our own!

Many times it would be small animals, like a group of bats hanging on a tree branch or a small snake in a tree. We would never have seen these things, but his ability to read the forest resulted in so many cool sightings.

Animal sightings aside, having a Kichwa member as a guide gave us an interesting insight into the life of the people that live in the rainforest and we learned so much about the forest and the people.

Something worth noting is that most people enjoy the standard group experience that Napo Wildlife Center offers, meaning you’ll be in a small group with other travelers that book on the same package type.

Alternatively, you can pay a little bit more money and have a private guide. This is what we did and we highly recommend it.

We were able to make our own schedule and visit the viewing areas without other people. This made our visit very intimate with the forest.

Excursions in the Amazon Rainforest

Hiking in Yasuni National Park - Lina Stock

Basing yourself at the Napo Wildlife Center, you will have the opportunity to participate in 2-3 excursions each day depending on the package you booked.

Excursions include canoe trips through the Black Water canals, jungle hiking trips to the viewing tower, night walks, visits to the parrot clay licks and cultural experiences at the Napo Cultural Center.

A typical itinerary combines a variety of these activities during your stay with the emphasis being on the canoe trips, which is arguably the best way to spot and see wildlife during your stay.

Birdwatching at Napo Wildlife Center in the Yasuni National Park

I can’t say enough about the quality of the guiding with the Napo Wildlife Center.

Despite our guide asking us what we would like to do each day, we stepped back and let him dictate our entire schedule, which he did flawlessly. Letting him have control gave us so many wonderful experiences.

By doing this, he took us where he thought the viewing would be the best based on what the weather was doing and his lifetime of experience in reading the Yasuni National Park rainforest.

He was always spot on and we highly recommend trying this approach during your visit.


Wildlife in Yasuni National Park


Napo Wildlife Center - Black Caiman

You are in the Amazon; you are going to see animals and lots of them. The Yasuni National Park is the most biologically dense place on the planet. It is crawling with fauna and flora in all directions, many of which are rare.

We saw hundreds of animals in our five days with the Napo Wildlife Center, so it’s impossible to list them all out for you but some of the highlights included the following:

Know what you are looking at, Don’t forget your bird watching guide: Birds of Ecuador and Galapagos (Pocket Photo Guides)

Giant River Otters

Napo Wildlife Center - Giant River Otter

We saw these guys six times! While that doesn’t seem like much, it is an incredible amount of sightings of an endangered animal.

One of the things that is really special about the Napo Wildlife Center is the family of Giant River Otters that live near the lodge and frequent the waters.

This makes your chances of seeing them incredibly high, although not guaranteed.

Dusky Titi Monkey

Napo Wildlife Center - Dusky Titi Monkey

One of our best sightings, we saw them in the evening while walking through the rainforest. We had been sitting at a clay lick, waiting for parrots and decided to head back to the river.

They jumped right over the top of us and then lingered long enough for photos. It was surreal to see them that close.

Napo Saki

Napo Wildlife Center - Napo Saki Monkey

This was an exciting viewing for us, as the Napo Saki is not easy to see on a visit to the rainforest.

It was on our last day and we were actually in the canoe paddling our way out of the black water system to leave when we saw them.

Way up in the trees, our awesome guide pulled us over, pointed them out and we were able to observe them for quite a while.

Golden Mantled Tamarin

Napo Wildlife Center - Golden Mantled Tamarin

These little guys are everywhere at the Napo Wildlife Center and that is not an exaggeration. You will likely see them on your visit, playing in the trees around the lodge and behind the cabanas.

They are curious and if they see you watching, almost seem to put on a show for you. There is a reason they used this monkey on their logo.

Squirrel Monkey

Napo Wildlife Center - Squirrel Monkey

Another species that we had numerous encounters with, the Squirrel Monkey is fun to watch as they leap from tree to tree searching for things to eat.

They like to fight and play, so they can be vocal. We saw them on three days during our visit.

Red Howler Monkey

Napo Wildlife Center - Red Howler Monkey

You cannot mistake the sound of a Red Howler Monkey for anything else. They are not as easy to see as they are to hear, but we got lucky and saw them on three occasions.

Our best sighting came during one of our black water canoe paddles, early in the morning.

Black & Green Anacondas

Napo Wildlife Center - Anaconda
Enormous 18-foot Black Anaconda

Snakes can be extremely elusive to see, anywhere. So the first time we saw a Green Anaconda on the banks of the Napo River, it was an exciting moment. We pulled in for photos and a closer look.

That moment was only the beginning as we saw several decent-sized Green Anacondas during our visit.

One day, our guide was talking about a large Black Anaconda that had been spotted in the grass up the canal from the lodge and wanted to go check it out.

We agreed, and to our insane luck had the opportunity to view a HUGE Black Anaconda. By huge, I am talking about an 18-foot snake.

We were terrified but couldn’t resist going in for a closer look. This is the Amazon, after all.

Scarlet Macaw

Napo Wildlife Center - Scarlet Macaw

This species of bird is incredibly hard to see unless you visit areas of the Amazon Rainforest that have clay licks.

The colorful birds come to the clay to consume the minerals after ingesting poison berries. It is rare to see Scarlet Macaws in the wild, so a sighting is not guaranteed.

What makes the Yasuni National Park so special is that it has several of these clay licks and two of them are accessible during your visit with the Napo Wildlife Center.

We saw several species of Parrot on the main clay lick, located on the Napo River but had the unbelievable privilege of viewing a single Scarlet Macaw one day at the private clay lick located deep in the forest.

To give you some perspective, we made 4 attempts at this clay lick and 2 attempts at the river clay lick and only saw one Scarlet Macaw, once.

**These are just our highlights from our wildlife viewing as we saw hundreds of more animals during our stay. Visiting the Amazon Rainforest is a sensory overloading experience on many levels.


Napo Cultural Center Experience


Napo Cultural Center - Ecuador Amazon

If culture is a strong interest for you or you want to visit the Amazon without the extra-long commute into the Napo Wildlife Center, then you can strongly consider the Napo Cultural Center.

This eco-lodge is located on the banks of the Napo River and is set up on the edge of the Kichwa Añangu Community village offering you wonderful opportunities to interact with the local people during your stay.

While you won’t be staying deep in the jungle, you’ll be right on the Napo River and have access to some of the same activities that you can experience at the Napo Wildlife Center.

Napo Wildlife Center - Parrot Clay Lick

This includes access to both parrot clay licks – meaning you’ll have the opportunity to see a Scarlet Macaw, jungle trekking and black water paddling. The center also features its own canopy viewing platform.

The Napo Cultural Center also provides an opportunity to interact with the local Kichwa community that owns and operates both of the lodges.

The special Kuri Muya Interpretation Center is run by the women of the village and sits adjacent to the main lodge.

You will have a chance to learn about the Kichwa culture, their crafts, traditions and how they use the rainforest to survive.

One of the most interesting aspects of our cultural visit was the opportunity to learn how they brew the famous Ecuadorian Amazon drink of Wayusa.

Officially a stimulant, this drink is made from brewing the leaves of the Wayusa plant in a ritual that involves starting it in the evening and then carrying through the night before serving it in the morning.

Napo Cultural Center Rooms in Parque Nacional Yasuni

In addition to the numerous activities on offer at the Napo Cultural Center, you’ll have the opportunity to view wildlife within the lodge grounds, we saw a two-toed sloth right outside our cabana the day we arrived.

While not as luxurious as the Napo Wildlife Center, the lodging at the Cultural Center offers private cabanas with private bathrooms, including hot water showers, large beds and front decks complete with hammocks. The main area features a bar, dining area, and restaurant.


Yasuni National Park Planning Tips


How to Get to Napo Wildlife Center

Napo Wildlife Center - Napo River

Most trips to visit the Yasuni National Park and the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador will start from Quito, the biggest international airport in the country.

This inevitably means you’ll spend at least one night in Quito before moving on, however, if you have the time, we highly recommend a couple of days to explore the city.

From Quito, you’ll need to take a flight to the town of Coca. This small town is the gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazon. The town is located on the Napo River and all access to the Parque Nacional Yasuni starts here.

This is only the first part of your adventure. After arriving in Coca, you will be picked up at the airport by a guide from the Napo Wildlife Center and shuttled to the main river port.

Once here, you will board a longboat and start your 2-hour journey up the river to the Napo Cultural Center.

Search for Flights: Priceline or Skyscanner offers great deals to Ecuador.

David Stock on his way to the Luxury Napo Wildlife Center

Once you reach this point, anyone staying at the Napo Cultural Center will disembark. You will then continue a short distance upriver to the entrance of the Yasuni National Park and the private access to the Napo Wildlife Center.

You’ll have the opportunity to stretch your legs and use a bathroom here before transferring into small paddle canoes.

At this point, you have another 2 hours of travel, deep into the national park, before you reach the Napo Wildlife Center.

This part of the Yasuni National Park is known as a Black Water System and it is one of the most unique and biodiverse areas of the Amazon in Ecuador.

Amazing Sky over the Amazon in Ecuador

I know, it is a long amount of time to spend in transit but once you reach this part of the journey, you will be able to pair it with some fantastic wildlife sightings. So keep that camera out and keep your eyes peeled.

Ultimately ending at Añangu Lake, the Napo Wildlife Center will come into view and you’ll find yourself immersed deep in the Amazon Rainforest.

This amazing journey into the Yasuni National Park was made possible in partnership with the Napo Wildlife Center. As always, all opinions, experiences, recommendations and crazy animal encounters are mine.

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA



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